Oil man's CV of sleaze

Mungo Soggot documents the extraordinary history of the Liberian set to earn R3- million a year in South Africa’s oil industry

The Liberian charged with reshaping South Africa’s state oil industry helped cream off millions from his country’s own oil business and had ties with a company which pumped oil into apartheid South Africa.

Emanuel Shaw II - who is set to earn at least R3-million a year from the South African taxpayer - spent much of the 1980s concocting elaborate money-making ploys with a partner known as “The Godfather of Liberia”. The Mail & Guardian has obtained correspondence between Shaw and his partner, Gus Kouwenhoven, in which Shaw details his involvement in their scams.

Don Mkhwanazi, the chair of South Africa’s state oil company, the Central Energy Fund (CEF), is standing by his decision to recruit Shaw as his chief adviser. He says the Deputy President, Thabo Mbeki, endorsed Shaw for another state oil job in 1995.

The M&G revealed last week how Mkhwanazi ignored state tendering rules, state oil company policy and the Department of Minerals and Energy to recruit Shaw and his son, Emanuel Shaw III. The Liberian was a confidant of the West African country’s former president, Samuel Doe, and rose to become the notorious dictator’s finance minister.

Shaw has recently been appointed Liberia’s “ambassador extraordinaire” by the country’s new president, former warlord Charles Taylor.

By taking up the job at the CEF Shaw opens himself to an obvious charge of a conflict of interest, because he has also been working for South Africa’s biggest petrol company, Engen, since last year.

Shaw’s letter to his partner, Kouwenhoven, indicates the two men were outright rogues. It was written to justify a claim by Shaw for a greater share of their ill-gotten gains.

Shaw details how he gave Kouwenhoven the BMW dealership in Monrovia; the sole control of Monrovia’s top hotel, the Hotel Africa; and how he established a string of front companies to give Kouwenhoven a cut in the purchase of a new aircraft for Doe. In some instances Shaw went as far as to change Liberian law to give Kouwenhoven plum deals, all of which earned him a healthy commission.

Kouwenhoven is understood to have accompanied both Shaw and President Taylor on a visit last week to Taipei.

The letter, which has become part of Liberian business folklore, was first published by a Liberian magazine in June 1991, and subsequently by several other Liberian newspapers. The letter was found on Shaw’s computer after he fled Liberia.

In the Hotel Africa deal, Shaw also gave Kouwenhoven exclusive gambling rights by changing the country’s gambling laws. He says: “I wrote a gambling law and you got the opportunity to review and edit it to your satisfaction. I had the new gambling law passed by decree ... I supervised the drafting of your concession agreement ... and helped you protect your exclusivities and rights thereunder for all these years, making so many enemies for myself.”

The article which quotes the letter was written by a Liberian journalist, Reggie Goodridge, who is ironically now Taylor’s press secretary. The article is entitled “Sovereignty on auction - the saga of Emanuel Shaw and Gus Kouwenhoven”, and is described as “an expos that renders the activities of the Italian Mafia pale by comparison”.

In the letter Shaw also explains how he managed illegally to arrange an insurance payout for Kouwenhoven after the Hotel Africa burnt down in a “mysterious” fire in 1983. Shaw says he falsified certificates about the value of the hotel’s contents. Goodridge wrote that the letter also described the two men’s involvement in Nigerian oil deals and in the astonishing saga of the Liberian National Petroleum Corporation.

Shaw allegedly helped set up an oil consortium that took over the main functions of the the Liberian Petroleum Refining Corporation just before Doe was toppled in December 1989. Shortly after their new company was formed, the price of fuel in Liberia rocketed from $2,95 a gallon to $3,55 and, according to Goodridge, it was widely believed that the profits did not make their way back to the state’s coffers.

The shareholders in the company included Shaw, Kouwenhoven, Doe himself and the company’s president, Mark Woolman, who also headed a mysterious oil company called Tiger Oil.

Tiger Oil has been named as one of the companies which broke the oil sanctions against South Africa, in a submission to the truth commission by the Shipping Research Bureau in Amsterdam. According to oil industry officials and sources in Nairobi, Woolman - who was murdered last year - worked with Shaw in Kenya before Shaw came to South Africa in 1992.

Goodridge wrote that Shaw’s letter is now a part of public record after it was used in evidence in New York and New Jersey courts, in a multi-million-dollar case between the Liberian National Petroleum Corporation and the government of Liberia.

Shaw is also a shareholder in a company set up in 1989 to take over the operations of Liberia’s main iron-ore company. The company has yet to submit financial statements to the government.

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